The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported the highest youth unemployment rate of 31.6% in April 2020. This is during a time when fresh graduates are expected to enter the labor workforce in the country. This, with all the continuous lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus, businesses were crippled. To cope and survive, companies resort to laying off employees, freezing hiring activities, and choosing experienced workers for fewer jobs.
One year on, the numbers are still bleak. According to PSA, the youth unemployment rate was 15.4% last March 2021. That is still 1.2 million Filipinos between the ages 15-24 years old without work in the midst of the rocky economy that our country is facing right now.
In these challenging times, it is imperative to harness the opportunities in the agriculture sector. While many young professionals prefer jobs in the corporate and technology sector, only few realize the economic prospects in farming and fishing. The Department of Agriculture (DA) toils to make the Philippines a food-secure and resilient country, with empowered and prosperous farmers and fisherfolk. By mobilizing the youth to become the country’s agriculture and fisheries frontliners, the Department not only addresses youth unemployment but also strengthens food security for the generations to come.
To advance this goal, the Mentoring and Attracting Youth in Agribusiness (MAYA) Program was conceptualized. The MAYA Program, is a six-month internship program that aims to develop a cadre of young, highly skilled, and committed workers, future officials in the government, and innovative and highly-competitive agribusiness entrepreneurs.
In pursuit of employment, Allen Pierre Alvarez, a 23-year-old intern at the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) under the MAYA program, had little faith of being accepted when he sent his application requirements online. From more than 3,000 applicants, he was one of the 808 who qualified and shortlisted to help contribute in furtheringthe agriculture sector.
Here’s what he has to say when we asked him questions about his experience with the MAYA Program:
What were you doing before you discovered MAYA Program?
After graduation, I was busy sending out application letters online. Due to the pandemic, I chose job openings that are near my home in Quezon City. I applied for administrative and office work, online jobs, and government positions. However, because I was a fresh graduate and I did not have a Civil Service Eligibility nor a professional license as an Agriculturist, it was difficult even to land an interview.
How did you find out about MAYA Program?
As I was browsing the internet, I saw a shared post in Facebook about the MAYA Program. I immediately sent my credentials because I already had scanned copies ready. It was a lucky moment because the day after I saw the post, the application was closed because of the volume of applicants.
How did you feel when you were contacted for the Program?
I was not hopeful, I was doubtful because I thought there were others who are more qualified than me. Only when my mother and I were signing the internship contract that I realized my acceptance to ATI was real. The Institute must have believed in my skills set and knowledge; I hope that I would perform well in this agency.
What did you expect to learn through the Program?
There are a lot of things that I expected to learn in ATI through MAYA Program. As a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, major in Animal Science, I find agricultural extension interesting. I am expecting to learn more about the extension activities in commodity banner programs like rice, corn, high value crops, and organic agriculture. I am also interested in the accreditation process of farms as Extension Service Providers (ESPs). Finally, I also expect to learn more about the developmental activities for the youth and women in agriculture.
What have you learned so far?
During my first few weeks with ATI, I was assigned to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) Program and other special programs. I was tasked to write letters to external partners. I learned how to communicate ideas through business correspondence to negotiate effectively.
Under RCEF, I was tasked to consolidate data results from surveys. Through this, I was able to practice organizing, managing, and interpreting data. These skills are important in generating conclusions and recommendations for better policy-making processes and improvement of methods.
Most of my exposures are with the Corn Program, especially in the Blended Training of Trainers on Fall Armyworm Management. I was a training assistant and there was an instance that I presented in one of the sessions. I learned how to practice my presentation skills and people management even though the sessions are online. I learned how to organize an online training from the pre- to the post-event preparations.
Any more skills that you want to learn?
Being exposed to training management, I see myself working in the development sector, especially in agricultural extension. Since I chose employment track for this program, I am working hard to absorb the all knowledge and experiences that comes with the job. I plan to learn more about government procurement procedures, ISO process, and human resources management.
Moreover, I am interested in enhancing my skills in training administration, and knowledge products management. I hope that I will experience this growth during my stay in ATI.
What is your overall opinion on the program?
This program has indeed helped a lot of unemployed youth like me. Aside from the financial benefits, this program focuses on the skills development, instead of just utility and necessity for labor of the youth in the work setting.
Being successful as it is, I do believe that it still needs a few refinement and improvement, especially in defining a sound module that should be followed. This will ensure timely and relevant implementation, as well as smooth monitoring and evaluation.
With news of MAYA Program having a second batch, I hope that this suggestion would be considered. I hope that MAYA Program would still continue so that more unemployed youth like I once was would be given opportunity to not only have a job for a living but also a chance to enhance their skills to better serve the country.
Allen Pierre may still have a lot of weeks to go before his six-month MAYA Program contract ends, but with his dedication and commitment, he will definitely achieve his goals in ATI. As more and more youth like Allen continue their passion to serve the country, the DA works harder and harder to provide them with the opportunities to channel their energies and capacities to contribute to the development of the agriculture and fisheries sector.